Miami pediatrician ousted from state board for her comments about COVID vaccine policy

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Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System who has been a visible advocate of vaccine access for poor young kids, was removed Wednesday from a state-appointed board for publicly criticizing Florida’s decision to delay access to the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5.

Gwynn received an email Wednesday afternoon from Susan Miller, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ deputy chief of staff, informing her she would be removed from her position on the Florida Healthy Kids Board of directors for making “some very political statements that do not reflect the CFO’s point of view.”

The email, which was first reported by Florida Politics, came as a surprise to Gwynn, who said she had no indication she would be removed from the position she’s held since she was appointed in March.

“Quite frankly, we’re just trying to advocate for things, for equitable access to the vaccine,” Gwynn said in a call with the Miami Herald. “I’m not a politician, I’m a pediatrician. And there’s no other reason for me to do what I do other than to improve the health of children in our state.”

The email from Miller claimed Gwynn went “so far as to say that the state is ‘obstruct[ing]’ access to vaccines. The CFO does not share your opinion and believes that the state has gone to great lengths to protect lives in the face of the coronavirus.”

The CFO’s office did not comment further on Gwynn’s removal. Patronis, a Republican, is running for reelection this year.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

Gwynn, who is also the president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, denied using the term “obstruct.” However, she is quoted using that term in a press release from the Florida chapter dated June 17. She has been openly critical of the state’s refusal to pre-order COVID-19 shots for children from 6 months to 5 years old, the only state to take that position. Florida pediatricians and parents criticized the decision, which Gov. Ron DeSantis argued was consistent with his administration’s position that vaccinating young children is not “appropriate.”

The vaccine for that age group is now available at pharmacies, community health centers and children’s hospitals. But Gwynn has pointed out the shot is still not available through county health departments, which is how many doctors have sought their supply of COVID-19 vaccines for older populations.

Parents have mixed feelings about the vaccines. Some are actively seeking it for their children under 5, the last group to be authorized for the COVID vaccines. Others are holding back, concerned about whether there has been enough research on the vaccines and their impact on young children.

Gwynn has been quoted by numerous media outlets at the local, state and national level, including the Miami Herald. She said that she has always spoken in her capacity as the president of the AAP chapter in Florida, and not as a board member of Florida Healthy Kids.

She added that her group had met with DeSantis’ chief of staff a few weeks ago to work on a resolution about the very issue she was critical about that led to Patronis removing her from the board. She said the state’s response was that they would take her concerns back to the governor.

Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for DeSantis, responded to questions via email late Friday morning.

“Although the state surgeon general is affirmatively recommending against COVID vaccines for ages 0-5, neither he nor the governor, nor any state entity, has ever “obstructed” healthcare providers from ordering the vaccines for this age group as soon as they received emergency use authorization from the federal government.

“The decision to relieve Dr. Gwynn of her duties was made by the CFO, who has full authority over this appointment. Our office did not need to give approval for this decision to be made, but the logic of the CFO’s decision is clear: A board member making public, false accusations about state policies runs the risk of jeopardizing the constructive working relationship between the Florida Healthy Kids board and the state agencies they work closely with, including DOH and AHCA.”

Gwynn stressed that while it’s disappointing to no longer be on the board for what was supposed to be a three-year term, she had only attended one meeting in March since she was appointed. She said she hopes to keep advocating on behalf of pediatricians for equitable access to the vaccine.

“That’s it, that’s my intention. and if I’m going to get released from the board of directors for that then so be it,” she said.

This story was updated Friday, July 1, to include comments from Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, and to make reference to a June 17 press release from the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics that quoted Dr. Lisa Gwynn.

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